Charlie Mitchell: Environmental stewardship is everybody's business

July 8, 2013 10:16:01 AM



OXFORD -- "There are ominous signs that the earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production -- with serious political implications for just about every nation on earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now." 


It's July in Mississippi, so the climate is on our minds -- at least when we go outside. If our car was parked in the sunshine, the steering wheel might be too hot to touch. When the engine is cranked, it seems like an eternity until cool air flows from the vents. 


"If the climactic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic." 


For people who haven't seen them, and for those of us who've experienced many, a summer thunderstorm rolling across Mississippi is a fearsome event. Flashes of lightning are intense, blinding. Rumbling thunder shakes the ground. Clouds roil, appear angry. 


"In the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more than 300 people and cause a half a billion dollars' worth of damage in 13 U.S. states." 


Advertisers are aware of the weather. Their messages push icy beverages, invite us to the beaches, water parks, swimming pools. Public service messages inform us of shelters available to folks without air-conditioned homes, remind us to look out for the elderly, care for our pets. Nannyish TV weather-guessers constantly admonish us to "hydrate," the new way of saying "drink water." 


"The growth of world population and creation of new national boundaries make it impossible for starving peoples to migrate from their devastated fields as they did in past famines." 


We live in a rural state and marvel at how fast freshly mowed pasture grass dries out in July, becoming ready for the baler. We see cattle jockey for space under shade trees. Crops seem to beg for rain. 


"Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climactic change, or even to allay its effects. The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climactic change once the results become reality." 


The quotes in this narrative, if you're wondering, come from an article appearing in Newsweek magazine. To be precise, they are from the April 28, 1975, edition -- 38 years ago. 


The climactic change predicted by the highly reputable sources quoted in the article -- the absolute experts on weather -- was that a new Ice Age was looming. The planet was cooling rapidly. There was clear evidence. Solutions, such as coating the Arctic Ice Cap with black soot to induce melting, were discussed as rational responses. 


Why bring this up? 


It's not to say that Global Warming, the buzz for this generation advanced and perhaps enhanced by former Vice President Al Gore, is not real. It's not to say President Obama's plan for improved environmental stewardship, announced last week during his Africa tour, is not worthwhile. 


It's to plead for perspective. 


There are lots of "grim future" stories, always have been. Most make people -- even children --fearful. 


A better view is that at least some of the energy expended sounding alarms should be refocused from global to local. Yes, governments have a regulatory role and it is an important role. It doesn't do any good, however, to wallow and wait for planetary doom. 


What we can do is remember each of us is a steward of one little patch of the planet. We can recycle, we can support local growers. We can limit our waste and take care that what can't be recycled is disposed of properly. We can conserve. 


A hard number -- not based on models or projections -- is that there were about 4 billion people on earth in 1978 when that Newsweek article appeared. The tally today is 7.1 billion. It doesn't take advanced calculus to figure out that will stress sources of food and water. 


All it takes is common sense -- not histrionics, not fear, not demanding sweeping reforms -- to realize that the big environmental picture is made up of billions of little, individual pictures. 


The less time spent pondering the unknowable, the better for our peace of mind. And the more time we spend taking care of our little patch, the better for everyone.